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When asked why there are so many chevrei kadisha in existence today, Hillel Gersh, who works for the Metro New York Jewish Sacred Society, posits that there are a great variety of customs in performing the rituals, and with them come differences in standards. Thus, when one chevra kadisha does not follow specific customs, another organization forms to do it according to those standards. As an illustration, Gersh mentions the custom of one European community: “They would put the body in a plain, pine box, which had a hole at the end. The family would tie a bendele, which is like a shoelace, around the leg right before the funeral.” Although this was more common when he started his job 30 years ago, Gersh says that this custom seems to have mostly fallen into disuse.

Inasmuch as chevrei kadisha have been around for centuries, their popularity seems to have increased substantially in recent years. For instance, a 2013 article in the Jewish Chronicle states that the Park Slope Jewish Center’s chevra kadisha now has 75 volunteers.


Rabbi Steinmetz did make it home for the latter part of the game, but looking back, he says, “I can’t remember anything about that Super Bowl, but I will always remember that tahara.”

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Barry Katz is a college administrator and adjunct professor who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children. He can be contacted at [email protected].